British endurance is in turmoil after a controversial European Championships (14 September) in which no team member completed and one rider was selected on a United Arab Emirates (UAE) horse.
Emma Finnie (pictured above on the right), riding Baraka Farid of Al Wathba Stables in Abu Dhabi, was in bronze medal position when she was spot-checked and eliminated for being under the minimum weight of 75kg.
“I genuinely don’t know how the weights went missing on the fifth loop,” said Emma. “I should have checked everything twice before I went out.”
Annette Masterson’s horse sustained a deep cut on the demanding course in Most, Czech Republic, while Carri Ann Dark retired at the fourth vetgate, after her horse became jarred.
Britain was unable to field a full team of four after Beccy Broughton Booker had to withdraw her horse due to injury.
Anger — and a resignation
Disappointment turned to anger soon after, when Endurance GB (EGB) international committee chairman Emma Miller stated that the British riders’ performances “showed that we are moving closer to the leading endurance nations”.
International riders including Tricia Hirst and Kay Trigg took to the EGB forum to call for a change of British team management. One EGB member posted that the “misleading statement” was “an offence to all EGB members”.
UAE competitors are notable for their high speeds of 25kph-plus, which vets have linked with the incidence of stress fractures in the straighter, flatter desert rides.
The statement was later pulled from the EGB website and replaced, on 18 September, with one that said: “Although the result was disappointing for all involved, we will ensure that we learn from the event.”
On the same day (18 September), EGB announced it had “regretfully” accepted Emma Miller’s resignation. She was reducing her voluntary work due to the growth of her business practice, said EGB.
A “strategic review” of international sport has now been promised by the EGB board.
Karen Collier, chairman of the EGB board of directors, moved to qualify what was meant by “moving closer” to the leading nations.
“The performance of all three British riders showed that they were able to achieve the speeds needed to be competitive with other European nations,” she told H&H.
Emma Finnie’s speeds in the initial loops were around 20kph — in touch with both Spain’s Jaume Punti Dachs, who finished fourth and best European (average 20.895kph) and the overall winner, Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum of the UAE (21.721kph). However, Emma’s speed had dropped to under 18kph by the fifth loop.
Sheikh Rashid covered the final loop at 26.79kph.
Protests over UAE horse in British team
The EGB board is continuing to come under fire from riders who are unhappy with the decision to select Emma Finnie on a UAE-nominated horse — given current concerns over UAE training methods, doping and horse welfare (see list below).
Ms Finnie works at Al Wathba stables in Abu Dhabi, which owns and trains Baraka Farid — and was crewed by them during the Europeans. Abu Dhabi is one of the seven emirates of the UAE. Although Al Wathba stables have never been implicated in a doping case before the FEI Tribunal, members of the Team GBR elite squad expressed their concerns directly to the EGB board.
H&H also understands that some elite riders withdrew from selection for the Europeans in protest.
Karen Collier of EGB defended Emma’s selection robustly.
“Emma Finnie was qualified on the horse and eligible to take part in the championships. She had every right to be considered for the team,” Ms Collier told H&H.
“It’s not unusual for that [selecting a UAE horse] to happen. Look at the Polish and Spanish teams,” she added.
The new European champion, Spain’s Jaume Punti Dachs, rode the stallion Quran El Ulm, who is owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s Juma Team.
Mr Punti Dachs, a long-term trainer for the ruler of Dubai, is being investigated by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, following the discovery of illegal medications at his Newmarket base, Moorley Farm East.
British endurance riders, UAE horses and the FEI Tribunal
Two of the three British endurance riders who have appeared before the FEI Tribunal in doping cases were riding horses lent by the UAE:
September 2006: Alice Beet (Haramata De Lozere)
The horse was loaned to the then 19-year-old Team GBR rider by Atlantic Endurance SARL on the day of the young riders’ endurance World Championships in Bahrain on 17 December 2005.
Haramata De Lozere tested positive for the anti-inflammatory dexamethasone.
The FEI Tribunal accepted that Alice had no previous knowledge of the horse’s management. She was suspended for three months.
July 2008: Sue Sidebottom (Fenwick Cadenza)
The rider, who was working in Dubai, borrowed the horse for a three-ride ladies’ championship from Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid. Fenwick Cadenza tested positive for steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
Sue was suspended for five months.
September 2010: Christine Yeoman — the only other British endurance rider to have come before the FEI Tribunal on a doping charge, on her own CJS Gai Forest — was later fully exonerated, on the grounds that the sample was contaminated.
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (26 September 2013).